Long live everything in Washington state (including everybody)

by Heather Vandenengel

SOMEWHERE ON A TRAIN BETWEEN SEATTLE, WA AND PORTLAND, OR — Sometimes when I’ve just arrived somewhere new and far from home, I’ll mentally zoom out of a map in my mind to see the tiny blue dot where I’m standing. I started doing this in Hawaii because it felt so far and isolated from everything and I did it this weekend to see a small blue dot zooming along on a motorcycle on the Olympic Peninsula, a girl in an oversized leather jacket gripping the metal bars on the back of the bike and grinning like a fool.

To back up a bit: I had been putting off riding Scott’s (my host farmer’s) bike all week. He offered to drive me around the island as a test ride before we went up to Port Townsend for the weekend, but I was freaked out for unjustified reasons (“But what if I fall off??”). I finally relented and we went for a ride around Vashon Island on a sunny afternoon–slowly first, at my insistence, and then at the actual speed limit. It didn’t take long to understand why people like riding these things–they have the freedom of a bicycle and the power of a car and are so coool.  We passed the abandoned exercise bikes overlooking the water, went down green and woody side roads and flew by so many small farms and apple orchards. It was glorious and thrilling and I was so glad I gave in.

The ride to Port Townsend, “Washington’s Victorian seaport and arts community”, was faster and longer and I still badgered Scott with plenty of pre-ride questions (“What’s the speed limit on the highway? Do we have to pass trucks?”), but that too melted away as we hugged harbors with a view of Mount Rainier and learned to breathe and just enjoy the ride. I also started repeating a phrase Scott had said to me on the first ride: “I think if you channel all your fear into joy, it could just work.”

I’m glad it did because the weekend was stupid fun. We went up for the Kinetic Sculpture Race, a wacky race of people-powered vehicles that have to float on water and run on sand, mud and road. It was very Pacific Northwest and very Port Townsend–silly fun that people take very seriously. I had to shake off some New England sensibility and loosen up to enjoy the kookiness, which I’m glad I did.

The ride back was the magic hour of motorcycle rides. We got off the ferry at Vashon in the early evening and took one last trip around the island as the sun was setting and it looked even dreamier than usual. I felt that kind of sad fondness and fullness I feel for a lot of places I visit–that I love it so much and am so happy to be here right now, but I know I’m not going to stay even though I could.

And now I’m on a train to Portland, where I’ll be filling up on beer and donuts for the week and missing the farm-fresh meals from the last two. It’s been a heck of a start to this trip and I can’t wait to see what other joy it unearths.

Some photos, of Port Townsend and Vashon (and some more to come, when my Chromebook cooperates.)

Pre-ride skepticism

Pre-ride skepticism

Post-ride glory

Post-ride glory